My mama disappeared that summer. Funny thing about memory, sometimes I don’t know the difference between my own true recollection and things I’ve been told. Maybe that’s due partly to hearing bits and pieces of this story over and over again, my whole life, from the time that photo was taken to this day. And now look at me. Sitting here telling the same story all over again.
See, that trip was our last family vacation. Cindy (she’s the pretty one with the hat) had only been off to college for two months before she came back and announced her engagement. The wedding was set for October. Grandpa Frank said we would take one last family vacation together before Cindy’s no-account city boy married into the family.
Grandpa mapped out the drive and explained that the planning part was just as much fun as the doing part. He took out a big atlas of the United States and pointed out the route from Okemah to Hell Canyon. We’d stop in at the RV park in Hell Canyon and camp for the night, then wake up before daylight next day and drive on to the coast. Grandpa made the whirring sound of a car engine as he dragged his finger along Route 66 from Okemah all the way out to California. Cindy rolled her eyes and looked away. But Shell’s eyes were filled with light and excitement. She laughed every time Grandpa’s finger stopped and took off again on the map.
Cindy always said Shell was Grandpa’s favorite, despite the fact that she was the only natural born trouble maker of the whole bunch. Grandma had a hard time making Shell behave. In fact, sometime shortly after Shell’s thirteenth birthday, Grandma just threw up her hands and said she was through trying. She had washed Shell’s mouth out with soap, thrashed her with cedar branches, grounded her for life, threatened her with boarding school and finally resorted to begging. But Shell never would give in. She’d take her lumps and keep right on with whatever scheme she’d cooked up in the first place.
Grandma would cry and say Shell was hell bent. But Grandpa didn’t believe that at all. He said she was just thirsty for life and tended to gulp it down quicker than most could tolerate.
When I was born, Shell was just sixteen. Grandma told everybody that I would be enough to quench Shell’s thirst for a real long time. Shell named me Frances, but no one ever called me that. On the day I was born Grandma said I was her little June bug and from then on I was called Junie.
It was my second birthday when we all loaded into the camper truck and set out on the road for our last trip together. Shell picked out the traveling music. A steady beat shuffled us along the road while Hank Williams howled, “Then I hurried straight home and packed…And if I didn’t go, I believe I’d blow my stack.”
…to be continued…
(Originally published by Quentin Bomgardner, Kelly M. Roberts and The Red Dirt Chronicles)